Chopin Piano Concerto No 2

Two recordings of the F minor Concerto and the budget option comes off best

Author: 
Jeremy Nicholas
Chopin Piano Concerto No 2 – Nebolsin

CHOPIN Piano Concerto No 2 – Nebolsin

  • (4) Ballades
  • Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 2

Having enjoyed Nebolsin and his colleagues so much in the First Concerto, Polish Fantasy and Krakowiak Rondo (A/10), I wondered in my review if they could not oblige with the remaining three Chopin works for piano and orchestra. I had no idea Gramophone reviews were so persuasive. This second volume lives up to its predecessor in every way, and the slight reservations I had about the acoustic and workmanlike accompaniment seem marginal considerations here. In fact, an arbitrary comparison with the Argerich/Dutoit recording (EMI, A/99R) reveals far cleaner textual details and a more integrated keyboard and orchestral relationship. Tempi are judged to a nicety and, once again, in the finale of the concerto, Nebolsin’s insouciant playfulness is a real delight. The rarely recorded “Hats off, gentlemen, a genius” Op 2 Variations are welded into a cohesive whole in what, for me, is the new benchmark recording (try the final pages of the Alla polacca variation with Nebolsin’s left hand injecting a motoric rhythm against the non-stop right-hand semiquavers). This, Chopin’s earliest work for piano and orchestra (1827), is followed by his last (completed in 1835) to round off in exuberant high spirits a highly recommended disc.

I wish I could say the same for Lise de la Salle’s. Her earlier recordings have been highly praised in these pages (and quite rightly) but here she makes some quite bizarre interpretative and tempo decisions. In the F minor Concerto’s first movement, one’s ears first prick up at the elongation of the passage at 5'24"-5'42", a foreshadowing of the slow movement which grinds along for nearly 12 minutes (Nebolsin’s demurely paced Larghetto lasts 8'07"). Things pick up in the finale but by then the damage has been done. The Dresden players and Luisi accompany gamely enough. The same fate befalls the Four Ballades. Cantabile lines are stretched to the point of narcolepsy: compare Cortot’s and Perahia’s G minor Ballades, each coincidentally 8'49", with de la Salle’s 11'14", or their F minor Ballades of 9'45" against de la Salle’s 13'54". For all her delicate phrasing and lovely piano tone, I’m afraid Miss de la Salle’s Chopin needs a rethink.

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